Belfast tech firm’s fast fashion solution raises £5m in funding round

Responsible co-founders Mitch Doust and Mark Dowds, front, with board members, back from left, Taylor May, Fra McEldowney, Ciarán Jordan and Mark Rabo.
Responsible co-founders Mitch Doust and Mark Dowds, front, with board members, back from left, Taylor May, Fra McEldowney, Ciarán Jordan and Mark Rabo.

A BELFAST-based tech company's response to the explosion in global fast fashion, has raised $6.6 million (£4.86m) in seed funding just months after it was established.

Responsible has been described as the world’s first embedded finance platform in fashion. It offers a buy-back reward for products sold by its fashion partners, in order to keep clothing from landfill.

It was set up last year by Mark Dowds and Australian Mitch Doust. Mr Dowds was one of the original founders of Ormeau Baths, which has become a hub for local tech innovators and entrepreneurs.

Responsible’s significant funding round, led by Barclays Sustainable Impact Capital, includes backing from Co Tyrone native Sarah Friar, who now heads Silicon Valley tech unicorn, Nextdoor.

Other backers include Polish billionaire Rafa? Brzoska and Techstart Ventures, which manages the Invest NI and EU-funded Techstart initiative.

The Belfast start-up said the multi-million-pound funding round will be used to expand its reach throughout Europe and to extend its network of brand partnerships.

Mr Dowds said just 5-7 per cent of the billions of items produced by the global fashion industry each year are sold for a second time.

His firm’s answer is a tech solution called ‘Buy Back’, which is integrated into both online and physical stores, informing shoppers of the residual value of the item they are about to buy.

The shopper can wear the garment and return it at any point in the future in exchange for credit at the ‘Buy Back’ price stated at purchase.

“We are enabling brands to not only become accountable for everything they produce, but also to financially benefit from a more circular and sustainable business model,” said Mr Dowds.

“Data sources like Black Book and Glass’s Guide transformed the automotive industry, we plan to do the same in fashion.”

The tech firm had design-led brands RÆBURN and Côte et Ciel signed up at launch, alongside pioneering denim brands, Kuyichi, and Kings of Indigo.

More brands are expected to be announced over the coming months.

Explaining her attraction to the venture, Sion Mills native Sarah Friar said: “Investing in community means thinking holistically about how our actions impact the community around us.

“For example, most of us know that it is better to buy previously worn clothes instead of new.

"Responsible is now making this more convenient and easier. I am excited to see another company from Northern Ireland step up with a global solution to help our planet.”

Rafa? Brzoska, who founded European logistics company InPost added: “I am excited to be investing in the future of Responsible and to potentially open new frontiers by leveraging the InPost technology, infrastructure and network of partnerships across the UK and Europe, building competitive advantages for fashion retailers.”